With a song in my heart, I got in the car to drive my daughter to our first college visit. We drove two hours to a school nestled in the mountains. It was a state school, not too big, not too small. She knew plenty of alumni from her high school who attended there, and I was convinced it was going to be the perfect fit. We pulled up to the student center, and I jumped out of the car. I glanced around for her and realized she was still sitting in the car.
“Mom, I’m not getting out. I don’t want to go here.”
Still certain I was right, I said, “Fine. Let’s just drive around.”
We made a quick pass around campus with her scowling out the window. I thought, She will warm up. I just know it. I pulled up to the dorm so she could see the students merrily walking to class. I suggested we go casually talk to them, thinking that if she didn’t want to do an official tour that was fine, talking to a current student would give us better insight anyway.
“Mom! Absolutely not.” That appalling idea earned an immediate rejection and an eye roll.
I didn’t understand her refusal to get out of the car. We were here. At least try.
I got back in the car, and we both vented our frustration. My starry-eyed, bonding, mother-daughter college visit dissolved into a double dose of angry tears.
An utter disaster.
I turned the car around, and we started the two-hour drive back home. What just happened?
Thinking back, this experience shook me out of my “mom knows what you need more than you do” mindset. For many years, moms do know more about how life works than our kids do. But that sort of thinking ultimately leads to relationship strain as they get older. I acted in a heavy-handed, bulldoze-ahead manner. I thought I could show her the way and then wait for her to catch up. NOPE. That strategy will only punch my ticket to a relational standoff during the next few years as my daughter and I figure out our new dynamic.
I also should not have viewed her decision so much through the lens of my own college experience. My daughter and I are alike in many, many ways. When I thought about her upcoming college choice, I leaned too much on my own enjoyable college years as a filter. The years I spent at a different college in a different mountain town were some of the happiest of my life. This school reminded me of that time. My mom instincts were solid.
I wanted that same joy for her, and I thought this school might be a happy place for her. But I should have hung back and let her lead. She needed the space to make her own judgments.
The biggest miss I see, looking back? I failed to listen first.
She told me what she was looking for in a school. We talked about her criteria. I heard her, but I didn’t listen. I nodded and then planned this trip anyway.
As my daughter graduated from high school, our adult-kid relationship started to change. Together we were building an adult-adult relationship with one another. Taking the time to really hear her sits at the foundation of this new relationship. Moms know stuff, we have the advantage of years and experience. But respect for my daughter in this season looks like laying that down. Respect looks like acknowledging her experience and stepping aside to let my daughter step forward.
Here’s one thing I did right.
Somehow, I raised a daughter who isn’t going to live her life just to please me.
I love that about her. I secretly envy her. I spent most of my 20s trying to figure out how to say no to good things and good people that didn’t line up with my own priorities. She possessed that strength and self-awareness as a high schooler. She knows herself.
After we both wiped our eyes, I took her out to eat. We talked through the issues, and I apologized for not listening.
She graduates from the college of her choice in May. I couldn’t be prouder.